All About Chile Peppers

March 21, 2012 at 11:03 AM Leave a comment

John Scheepers Kitchen Garden Seeds

Spice It Up with Chile Peppers

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People who live in Latin America, India, Africa or Asia, rarely eat a meal that doesn’t include Chile Peppers. In fact, some folks travel with their own supply of homemade, signature hot sauce! Chile’s fruity flavors, rainbow colors and spicy heat turns up the volume and ardent love of many foods. Every cuisine has its preferred variety and special impassioned way with them. Growing some of these unusual, and often hard-to-find Chiles, can open up a whole new world of unbridled culinary adventure. Chile Peppers are easy to grow and harvest, and so easy to use fresh or frozen, dried or canned, for dishes that warm body and soul all year long.

Hot Chile Peppers

Chile Peppers have been cultivated as a food crop for more than 6,000 years, yet were virtually unknown outside of Central and South America. It was Christopher Columbus who brought Chiles to Spain in the late 1400s: within 100 years, they were incorporated into cuisines all over the world. The old adage “you can’t tell a book by its cover’ definitely applies to Chile Peppers. Some of the hottest Peppers on earth are cute little red guys no bigger than your thumb. But, man alive, can they inflict bodily damage and emotional scars. Thankfully, someone invented a way to rate the heat of a Chile Pepper so you can assess the risk before you bite.

The Scoville Scale measures the amount of capsaicin in a Pepper, which is the chemical compound that makes our skin tingle delightfully, break out in a worrisome rash, or burn with a sense of panic. The test uses sugar to neutralize the heat; the more sugar that’s added, the higher the Soville units and the hotter the pepper.

Some Like It Not So Hot

The hottest parts of a Chile Pepper are the seeds and the white membranes inside the fruit. To reduce the heat, just remove some or all of these parts. Roasting is another good way to calm the heat, as it converts some of the natural sugars into palatable sweet goodness. Place Peppers on a hot gas or charcoal grill, rotating them with tongs until all sides are charred, blistered and really black. Pile them into a paper bag on a sturdy tray so they steam each others’ skins off. Once they are cool enough to handle, put on some rubber gloves to protect your hands. Peel off the skins, remove the stems and slice into long pieces, scraping away the seeds. Use immediately or slip your prepared Chiles into zip-top plastic bags to savor as needed for sandwiches, sauces, stews and casseroles.

Have you ever put a bit too much Chile heat in a recipe? Don’t despair. You can disperse the capsaicin oil with another fat in the form of cheese, sour cream or butter, or use Scoville’s technique: add a little sugar to neutralize some of the heat. Start with a teaspoon and add more, tasting in between to make sure you’re not over-sweetening the dish. In fact, if you love the rich complex flavor of Chile Peppers but can’t take the heat, use some of your harvest to make your own sweet Asian Chile sauce~good on everything from spring rolls to turkey sandwiches, it’s an easy combination of chopped seeded Chiles, sugar, a little white vinegar and cornstarch, heated until thickened.

A World of Chile Peppers

We offer Chile Peppers for every kind of hot-head, whether you like yours zippy or curl-your-toes scorching. You’ll find Scoville ratings for each variety, starting with super-mild Pepperoncini Peppers, which also go by the name of Tuscan Peppers or Golden Greek Peppers. Pale, greenish-yellow, they have thin walls and a good crunch – perfect for antipasto, salads and pizza. Big Jim is a large, green, New Mexico-type Chili that can be roasted and stuffed with cheese for authentic chile rellenos. Great with eggs, too. Hungarian Hot Wax Chiles get hotter (from 5,000 to 15,000 Scoville units) as they mature from green to yellow to red. Great for pickling and frying. In the same heat range is San Luis Ancho/Poblano, which has a rich, smokiness when dried and is a mainstay in all kinds of Mexican dishes.

In your own garden, you may have noticed that the heat intensity of any single variety can fluctuate with the weather, individual plant or time of harvest. De Padron, an heirloom known as “Spanish Roulette,” can take this to a surprising extreme. Most of these Tapas bar-favored, delicious green chilis are mild, registering at 500 Scoville units, but the odd one could stun you with FIVE times the heat.

Midway up the Scoville scale, still under 3,000 Scoville units, come Pasilla Bajio and Mulato Isleno. These Chiles are typically dried, which enhances their amazing flavor and makes it easy to use them year round. Just a little hotter are Cherezo Cherry Peppers, a favorite for pickling and stuffing. When ripe, they are bright red with thick walls and a fruity flavor.

Hotter still are Jalisco Jalapeno and Serrano, both from Mexico and fantastic in salsas, raw or roasted. One step up will take you to Aji Limo from Peru and the famous little Tabasco chiles from Mexico, each hitting 30,000 to 50,000 Scoville units. We also offer the rare, African-American heirloom, The Fish Chile Pepper. It’s a gorgeous ornamental variety for the kitchen garden and a special ingredient in regional seafood specialties.

Nearing the top of the incendiary scale is Super Cayenne II, which is commonly dried and crushed into flakes or powder for topping pizzas and pastas, or mixing into special curries. Bird Chile Peppers are little ¼” round pods that are popular with birds, who are immune to their powerful heat~up to 100,000 Scoville units. Habaneros top the charts and are simply dangerous. We offer Orange Habanero, whose beautiful color and cute shape belies a pepper that’s 1,000 times hotter than a jalapeno. For those of you who garden and cook on the edge, there’s Caribbean Red Habanero, which causes serious pain at 350,000 to 400,000 Scoville units. Be scared, be very scared. Wear Hazmat gear.

Chiles Are Easy To Grow From Seed

Start your Chile plants eight weeks before the last spring frost. (You can also refer to our Seed Starting Schedules.) Be patient, as the seeds often take a good two weeks to germinate. Warmth helps. Once danger of frost has passed, transplant your seedlings into the garden, making sure they’ll be growing in well-draining soil and full sun. Pepper plants of all kinds like to grow relatively close to each other. Position your seedlings so that by mid-summer, the leaves of neighboring plants will be touching each other. Remember that peppers are native to hot, dry climates. For best results, don’t over-fertilize or over water.

Too Many Chile Peppers?

In native cultures, the traditional way to preserve Chile Peppers was air-drying. But Peppers of all kinds are also a snap to freeze. No need to blanche. Just cut the fruits open, remove their seeds and membrane (wear gloves to protect your hands from the capsaicin oil), slice or chop them and put into zip-top bags. Use as needed, right out of the bag. They thaw in minutes.

We share our best-of-the-best recipes so you can feed your family and friends well without feeling frenzied, and practical, hands-on horticultural tips to demystify gardening with seeds (it need not be tricky or difficult. Truth be told, it is a bit more like easy magic.) If you need help with anything, our office hours are Monday through Friday from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. You can email us at or call us at (860) 567-6086. Lance Frazon, our seed specialist, is happy to help you in any way possible. He loves to talk seeds.

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Entry filed under: Good Eating!.

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